Will Robben be next at Vis­sel Kobe?

Bangkok Post - - GENERAL - JA­SON DASEY Ja­son Dasey is CEO of Sin­ga­pore­based Cock­a­too Me­dia.

They’re all World Cup-win­ners, but with a com­bined age of 104, they bring a Dad’s Army flavour to the J.League at a pre­mium price. So, how much value can David Villa, An­dres Ini­esta and Lukas Podol­ski de­liver for Vis­sel Kobe in the 2019 sea­son?

This week’s sign­ing of Villa from New York City FC com­pletes the un­prece­dented big-spend­ing of the mid-ta­ble club and sees Ja­pan take over from China and In­dia as the pre­ferred sun­set des­ti­na­tion for age­ing su­per­stars.

Villa turned 37 on Mon­day, the day that his one-time La Liga ri­val Luka Modric won the 2018 Bal­lon d’Or in Paris.

Since leav­ing Atletico Madrid at the end of the 2013-14 sea­son, Villa was a rag­ing suc­cess in Ma­jor League Soc­cer, win­ning the 2016 MVP award and scor­ing 80 goals in 124 ap­pear­ances over four years. He even made an im­pact dur­ing a four-game loan spell in the A-League at the end of 2014, net­ting twice for sis­ter club, Mel­bourne City.

But turn­ing medi­ocre Vis­sel Kobe into a for­mi­da­ble force presents a dif­fer­ent kind of chal­lenge for a striker in his late-30s. Ja­panese foot­ball, with the mid­dle of the sea­son dur­ing the heat and hu­mid­ity of sum­mer, is tough. Games come thick and fast, some­times three a week.

The ar­rival of 33-year-old Podol­ski last year failed to pro­duce the quick suc­cess that bil­lion­aire owner Hiroshi Mik­i­tani, CEO of elec­tron­ics and in­ter­net pow­er­house Rakuten Inc, was hop­ing for.

They fol­lowed up ninth place in the 2017 J1 with 10th in the 18-team league this sea­son, with 12 wins and 13 de­feats.

Their for­tunes did im­prove when for­mer Barcelona whiz An­dres Ini­esta, 34, signed mid-sea­son and fel­low Spaniard Juan Manuel Lillo took over as coach in Oc­to­ber. They ended the sea­son with a four-game un­de­feated run, in­clud­ing vic­to­ries over Nagoya Gram­pus (2-1) and Ve­galta Sendai (3-2) last Satur­day.

And now Dutch­man Ar­jen Robben, who turns 35 next month, has been linked to the club, with Ja­panese me­dia re­port­ing on Wed­nes­day that Vis­sel Kobe will tar­get the winger who’s an­nounced that he’ll be leav­ing Bay­ern Mu­nich at the end of the sea­son.

So, ex­pec­ta­tions will be much higher for the 2019 cam­paign that will be­gin in Fe­bru­ary af­ter the Asian Cup.

Vis­sel will surely be tar­get­ing a top-three fin­ish that will earn them a place in the AFC Cham­pi­ons League, al­though the of­fi­cial state­ment ac­com­pa­ny­ing Villa’s sign­ing is aim­ing even higher.

“By ad­ding Villa to its ros­ter, Vis­sel Kobe aims to build on the foun­da­tion laid with the ad­di­tions of Lukas Podol­ski and An­dres Ini­esta as it takes an­other step to­wards the club’s goal of be­com­ing the num­ber one club in Asia,” the state­ment read.

Villa is Spain’s all-time top scorer with 59 goals, win­ning the 2008 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship and 2010 World Cup with Ini­esta.

At club level in Barcelona, they won two La Liga ti­tles to­gether, and a host of other tro­phies, in­clud­ing the 201011 Uefa Cham­pi­ons League.

Even at 37, Villa can be counted on for goals. In the 2018 MLS sea­son, he scored 15 times in 26 matches as New York City fin­ished third in the Eastern Con­fer­ence.

Coach Lillo has ex­per­i­mented with dif­fer­ent for­ma­tions since his ar­rival two months ago. He has oper­ated with Ini­esta and Podol­ski as No.10s, be­hind un­her­alded for­ward Kyogo Fu­ruhashi, a late bloomer who came through the col­lege sys­tem.

Fu­ruhashi will prob­a­bly need to make way for Villa, ei­ther push­ing out wide or rel­e­gated to the bench.

Op­er­at­ing in a deeper po­si­tion than usual, Podol­ski has hardly set the world on fire, with only 10 goals in 39 league matches, his frus­tra­tion for all to see, on and off the pitch.

The as­sists-king Ini­esta has scored three times in 14 games and has been a more gal­vanis­ing and grace­ful force, al­ways the no-non­sense pro­fes­sional.

But Vis­sel’s prob­lem hasn’t been scor­ing goals — their re­turn of 45 from 34 games is re­spectable — but keep­ing them out.

Hav­ing con­ceded 52 across the sea­son, in­clud­ing five-goal thump­ings at the hands of Kashima Antlers and Kawasaki Frontale within the space of the month, they had the sixth-worst de­fence in J1.

As far as a place to live, the port city of Kobe is a smart choice for Villa, within easy reach of the hus­tle-bus­tle of Osaka and the charms of Ky­oto.

By con­trast, for­mer Spain team­mate Fer­nando Tor­res ended up in the iso­lated town of Tosu on the is­land of Kyushu af­ter sign­ing with Sa­gan Tosu in July.

“New coun­try. New cul­ture. New team­mates. Hello Ja­pan. Hello Vis­sel Kobe,” Villa an­nounced ahead of the move, be­fore post­ing a pic­ture with Ini­esta on In­sta­gram and the cap­tion: “To­gether again!”

The sheer pro­fes­sion­al­ism and dura­bil­ity of Villa will likely ensure that Vis­sel Kobe get their money’s worth.

But to ex­pect three 30-some­thing icons to el­e­vate the Cows — yes, that’s their nick­name — to the man­tle of Asia’s best club is like ex­pect­ing this trio of World Cup win­ners to make in­ter­na­tional come­backs for Qatar 2022.

David Villa, right, holds a Vis­sel Kobe shirt with club owner Hiroshi Mik­i­tani.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Thailand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.